REVIEW: BLACKBERRY PASSPORT – IS THAT A SMARTPHONE? YES, IT’S BRILLIANT.

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BlackBerry recently launched the BlackBerry Passport, their productivity focused smartphone.

BlackBerry have designed the Passport to be the most efficient and effective device for a professional. The Passport has a large screen, a physical keyboard, impressive battery life and a well designed interface.

The Passport is a genuinely intriguing and innovative smartphone. I could go on for pages but for the sake of brevity (and the fact the average time spent on a page on TechHuman is 2min05sec) I will be as to-the-point as possible.

Outside

I hope the Passport is a new direction for BlackBerry in terms of built quality. The materials used are impressive, and the way in which they are combined to create the Passport results in a very well build smartphone. Easily rivalling the iPhone 6, HTC One and Lumia 930.

The Passport has a 4.5-inch square touchscreen (yes, square, like TV’s in the 90’s) and a three row physical keyboard. This makes it funny looking, possibly as this design is unfamiliar but also because it’s actually funny looking. People will constant ask “Is that a smartphone!?” That said, I can poke as much as I like at the design of the Passport, the fact is this design is very clever.

The screen is very large, displaying a huge amount of content resulting in minimal scrolling as all the important information is there. Also, having a physical keyboard is brilliant. It is better than any touch-keyboard by a substantial margin – that said it has to be used with two hands, the Passport is wide.

BlackBerry pulled a rather smart trick with this keyboard, like the screen it is also touch enabled. How this works is fascinating, I’ll give some examples:

The keyboard works as a scrolling wheel, for instance when on a webpage, in an email, the calendar or documents. Meaning you don’t have to use your finger to scroll, thus allowing you to read faster as you’re never obstructing the screen.

Whilst typing, above the keyboard on the screen appear word predictions. Flick-up under the word prediction you want and it automatically completes your word or sentence.

When editing text, double tap on the keyboard and a small magnifying window pops up to allow small movements within the text to make small edits to specific letters. This works substantially better than trying to tap on the screen on the word you want to edit.

Interface

The Passport runs BlackBerry’s latest 10.3 OS and it is very impressive.

Right from the start it is clear that the OS is designed for fast productivity. Everything is a swipe away, no double tapping, no long-hold-touches, just a swipe and swish. BlackBerry call this ‘Flow’ and flow it does.

The home screen displays the open applications in a tile-like interface. A swipe from left to right displays all correspondence in a combined inbox – the BlackBerry Hub. This left to right swipe, will always display the BlackBerry Hub – no matter what app you are in. If the swipe is short, then a graphic list is displayed, showing a ‘Peek’ at all unread correspondence. This makes replying to emails, calls, Whatsapps, BBMs, Tweets etc a fluid and fast experience. I have never replied to emails so timeously as I did when using the Passport – it makes it natural to correspond quickly.

BlackBerry 10.3 has introduced two new features to the ecosystem:

First, BlackBerry Blend. This is a desktop (PC & Mac) and tablet (iOS & Android) application linked to your BlackBerry that allows you to respond to SMSs, BBMs and Emails, check your calendar, files, battery life and signal. This is all done over the internet, your BlackBerry doesn’t even need to be in the same country as you. When asked about phone calls and BBM Voice, I got “we’re working on it”, which is promising.

Second, BlackBerry Assistant. This is BlackBerry’s virtual assistant and its quite impressive. It answers questions, creates appointments, sets alarms, navigates to coffee shops, sends BBMs and a whole bunch of other clever stuff. It is easily competitive with Siri, Google Now, and Cortana.

Finally, let’s discuss apps. BlackBerry World has most of the important apps, but it is certainly lacking behind Windows, Google and iOS. BlackBerry have attempted to curb this by allowing Android apps to be installed on their OS – even shipping the Passport with the Amazon App Store installed. Now, despite the square screen of the Passport, the Android apps run brilliantly. Way, way better than you would think. In fact, most of the Android apps are more up-to-date than the BlackBerry equivalent.

Hardware

The Passport is not right up to date with internal specs, in truth this doesn’t mean much. It is fast, with a quad-core Snapdragon processor and a rather large amount of RAM. There is plenty of space for things, as it is standard with 32GB (expandable) internal memory. The call quality is excellent, with the Passport adjusting the volume of the call depending on how close yo hold it to your ear. The battery life gave me a day, navigating, listening to music and messaging like a madman. Finally, the camera quality is right up there with its competitors with some impressive image editing features.

Pricing

The BlackBerry Passport is a high-end smartphone. It is roughly the same price as other recently released smartphones, like the Sony Z3 and the Samsung Galaxy Alpha.

UK: 529

GBPUSA: 599

USDEurozone: 649

EuroSouth Africa: 9110 ZAR*

Conclusion

I am a sucker for full-touch smartphones, making the Passport not for me. However, I cannot escape just how smart the Passport is. From the touch keyboard to the beautifully efficient OS the Passport is one impressive smartphone.

However, it is weird looking – yes it is the exact same size as a passport, but it is still weird. So what BlackBerry have created is essentially the autistic savant of smartphones, absolutely brilliant but may lack social grace.


Steven Ambrose CA (SA) | http://www.techhuman.com/ | steven@strategyworx.co.za |


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